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Best of John Grochowski

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Freedom of Choice Can Be Expensive

9 May 2002

Freedom of choice is a good thing for blackjack players who know their basic strategy, but for the majority of players, it largely means the freedom to choose poorly.

Players who take the time to learn well are best off with a game that gives them plenty of options. Being allowed to double down on any first two cards, or to surrender, is to the advantage of players who know how to use the options wisely. On the other hand, I see players every week who would be better off if double downs were restricted to hard totals of 10 or 11 and if they'd never heard of surrender.

Of course, such players would be better off still if they just took a short time to learn how to use the options presented. Let's take a look at a few rules that can be beneficial to the player, but need to be handled with care.

Double down on any first two cards: When it comes to doubling down, I've seen some truly odd plays. I once watched a fellow double down every time he started with hard 12. Doubling when it's possible to bust in one card is such an unusual--and bad--play that the dealer was required to call "Double on hard 12!" to the pit supervisor every time the play was made.

I also once played at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at the same table as a man who doubled on every soft total--hands in which an Ace is at least temporarily being counted as 11 and which can't be busted with a one-card hit. He peeled off $100 bill after $100 bill, getting his comeuppance for doubling Ace-2 against a dealer's 9, and Ace-4 against a 7. The play that had the whole table trying to show him the error of his ways was when he doubled on Ace-Ace against a Jack, instead of the far superior play of splitting the pair. Such players would be better off if opportunities to double down were limited.

In multiple-deck games, it's to the basic strategy player's advantage to double on hard 11 unless the dealer's up card is an Ace, on hard 10 against everything except an Ace or 10-value, and on hard 9 against 3, 4, 5 or 6. No doubling on hard 12 or above, or on hard 8 or below.

As for soft hands, double soft 17 or 18 if the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5 or 6, soft 15 or 16 against 4, 5 or 6, and soft 13 or 14 against 5 or 6.

Resplitting pairs: Every blackjack game I've played allows players to split pairs, using each card in the pair as the start to a separate hand. Some casinos allow only one split--if you split 8, 8 and are dealt another 8, you're stuck with 16 as the start to one hand. Others allow you to resplit pairs, so in that situation, you could have three separate hands, each starting with 8.

Players who do strange things such as splitting 5s or 10s--awful plays--are better off with a rule that stops them before they split again. But really, being allowed to resplit is to the player's advantage, provided the player knows when to split in the first place. As far as the basic strategy player is concerned, if splitting the pair is the proper play the first time, so is each potential resplit.

When should you split the pairs? Always split Aces and 8s, but never split 5s or 10-values. For everything else, it depends on the dealer's up card.

If allowed to double down after splitting pairs, split 2s or 3s if the dealer shows 2 through 7, 4s against 5s or 6s and 6s against 2 through 6.

If doubling down after splitting is not permitted, split 2s or 3s against 4 through 7, never split 4s and split 6s only against 3 through 6.

Regardless of whether doubling after splits is permitted, split 7s against 2 through 7.

The trickiest play is splitting 9s. Split (and resplit, given the opportunity) against 2 through 6 and against 8 or 9, but stand against 7, 10 or Ace.

Surrender: There are two forms of surrender: late surrender, in which the player may give up half the bet instead of playing out the hand after the dealer checks for blackjack, and early surrender, in which the player may give up half the bet before the dealer checks for blackjack. Early surrender is extremely rare, so late surrender, in which the player loses the entire bet if the dealer has blackjack, is the form we'll discuss here.

I've seen players surrender 14s against 7s and 12s against 10s. I even watched one player surrender every 16, regardless of dealer up card.

With late surrender, it's to the player's advantage to surrender hard 16 when the dealer shows a 9, 10 or Ace, and surrender hard 15 against a dealer's 10. A player who surrenders more than that could do with a little less freedom of choice.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski